A top executive at one of the biggest offshore wind developers active in the UK said its government would have to keep its promises to speed up consenting for giant projects, warning that if nothing changes “we will not be able to deliver” on even higher goals set in Britain’s new energy strategy.
Javier Garcia, international offshore wind business director for Iberdrola, said the current timeframes for securing consent are not consistent with increased ambition in the UK, which on Thursday increased its target for installed offshore wind to 50GW by 2030, up from a previous 40GW, from less than 11GW in place now.
The UK government along with the raised target said it aims to “cut the approval times for new offshore wind farms from four years to one year”, along with “an overall streamlining which will radically reduce the time it takes for new projects to reach construction stages while improving the environment”.
Garcia, speaking to Recharge at WindEurope's 2022 event in Bilbao just before the strategy was released on Thursday, said “if [the UK wants] to do the consenting in the same way we will not be able to deliver” on an increase to what was already seen as a challenging goal.
Iberdrola’s UK arm ScottishPower Renewables has seen its £6.5bn ($8.8bn), 3GW East Anglia Hub offshore wind complex hit by repeated delays while working through the UK infrastructure planning system.
Two of its sub-projects accounting for around half of its capacity only received consent at the end of March – missing the deadline to enter the latest round of renewable energy auctions – and could still be challenged in court by protesters, potentially causing further lags.
Garcia said that while Iberdrola will continue its role as a UK offshore wind pioneer – it was one of the biggest winners in this year's giant ScotWind round for new seabed off Scotland – there would have to be changes to reflect the vast ambitions the nation now has.
“It’s consenting, the supply chain, local content – there is a limit. If a country wants to increase targets it needs to do consenting in a different way.”
The current consenting system has previously been declared not fit for purpose by other developers, including Vattenfall UK country manager Danielle Lane, who told Recharge late last year – when the previous 40GW target was still in force – that “we’re having to deal with multiple different agencies across the spectrum, that is harder to [deal with] in the UK than in other countries”.
Reacting to the new energy strategy, Lane said on Thursday: “A world leading offshore wind target is an exciting challenge that the industry can rise to, but the vital work to unlock this potential now lies in setting out a clear plan to remove roadblocks to unlocking investment. It must not take over six years to secure project consents with risk placed fully with developers, and vital issues like grid access need resolving quickly.”
''The industry will step-up'
Bruce Valpy, managing director of UK-based consultancy BVG Associates, said of the new ambition: “The increased offshore wind target of 50GW by 2030 is a challenge that industry will step-up to. To do so, it must have confidence that the wider energy system challenges are being addressed.
“The UK is the windiest country in Europe and on many windy days, offshore wind will produce more energy than the country needs, even well before 2030. That’s without considering supply from onshore wind and solar (that also has negligible marginal cost) and hard-to-vary supply from nuclear.
“Evolving revenue models, better mechanisms to balance demand and supply, build-out of the national and international transmission network and the use of large-volume storage will be key to being able to incorporate 50GW of offshore wind.”
Offshore wind must continue to do things right for the local environment and community.
Bruce Valpy, BVG Associates
Valpy added: “The cut in 'approval times for new offshore wind farms from four years to one year' announced in the strategy is an important enabler. This can be built on a significant evidence base regarding environmental and social considerations, but good practice should continue to be followed. Offshore wind must continue to do things right for the local environment and community.”
Both Lane and Valpy, however, joined widespread disappointment among renewables advocates over the lack of a target for new onshore wind, which was the subject of a fierce political row in the run-up to the energy strategy’s announcement.
Valpy said: “The strategy contains little on onshore wind, which for UK is the cheapest and fastest option to deliver sustainable power.”
According to Lane: “Onshore wind as a cheap, powerful, and quick-to-build technology could play an important role in this and the government could have been bolder to unlock its full potential. Tried and tested, low-cost technologies like heat networks can also move quickly to set us off on the right foot, with pragmatic planning reform and the clear legislation in place.”